On Monday, City Council adopted a motion that will direct staff to bring forward anti-icing resourcing as part of the 2024 budget and adjust Snow and Ice guidelines to include anti-icing applications on priority - arterial and collector - roads for snow events that see an accumulation of 10 centimetres or more.

Staff was also directed to return with additional information on costs/implications for changes to service levels pertaining to snow clearing, and windrow removal in residential communities. 

The details of what is being factored in Budget 2024, thus far, include:

  • Addition of 1 tandem sander/plow truck for winter 2024/2025, and the additional staffing resources required to operate this unit, consisting of 4 winter term positions.
  • Increase the existing liquid calcium chloride storage.  
  • Addition of a liquid calcium distributor for anti-icing  

The motion came after Mike Avramenko from the City's Road Department came before the council with an update to a February council meeting which sought that The City look into how to best deal with snow and ice removal for a city of 100,000, which Airdrie is fast-approaching.

Avramenko stated in his presentation that while at present, snow clearing specific to windrow removal on residential roads is a winter service that receives the most public attention - any changes specific to removal will be highly scrutinized.

"Although we are not recommending any changes to the level of service we currently provide in that regard, if council were to direct administration to do so, it should be understood that any removal service level options would require a period of time to implement the implement rotation timeframe."

Horacio Galanti,  Airdrie's Chief Administrative Officer, gave council a few rough cost estimates based on other communities that do have residential snow and snow windrow removal. According to Galanti, Grand Prairie's residential snow removal program costs approximately $7.5 million. The approximate cost for snow windrow removal costs, which includes approximately 20,000 driveways being cleared, would be another $500,000. 

"$500,000 - and that is executed with bobcats and small equipment just to open the driveway. Four passes per winter will elevate the budget by another $2 million."

Snow routes have not been contemplated at the present moment.

In order to better understand how Airdrie's snow and ice removal stacks up against other similarly-sized cities, a comparative study was done. Avramenko underlined that no two cities are alike and that it is difficult to mirror what other municipalities are doing.

"The review provided some insight into areas where a more defined or higher level of service can be considered. Council could consider an enhanced service specific to anti-icing on the arterial and collector networks."

Typically anti-icing is completed prior to a winter storm event, where a thin layer of liquid icing brine solution is applied to a road surface. According to city documents, in past years, calcium chloride use on Airdrie roads has primarily focused on pre-wetting the solid material during the application or de-icing slippery sections when temperatures for salt melting are ineffective. 

"The timing, application rate, area weather forecast, air temperatures and the current temperatures of the pavement are all factors considered; if the product is applied early enough to dry onto the pavement it can prevent any snow or ice from sticking to the surface of the roadway. Although a snowpack may form during a sustained snowfall, once the snowfall stops, greater plowing can peel the ice pack effectively."

However, increasing the use of calcium chloride presents both an increase in cost, as well as potential risks to the environment.

"Additional chloride use would see an annual increase of liquid totals, financial assumptions on an annual basis would be in the range of $100,000 to treat Priority 1 & 2 routes. This change would impact the annual budget allotment (2.1 million)  by a minor increase of approximately +/- 5. This is based on an average of 4-5 snow events having a minimum of 10 cm of accumulation," city documents outlined.

Although Mayor Brown was worried about the potential environmental impact, Avramenko clarified both sodium chloride (salt) and calcium chloride can contaminate water.

"There is a heightened awareness of the need to evaluate chloride use management and how it impacts the Nose Creek Watershed and the overall Bow River Basin. Currently, the city follows a salt management plan. The plan was developed in 2011 and [was] designed to be an active document," Avramenko said. "The efficient use of road salt or chloride liquids is a city priority, but road safety will not as a result be compromised."

Councillor Petrow noted that road crews in British Columbia - especially on the Coquihalla highway, use sweet beet juice as a de-icing material and inquired if that could be a safer alternative. Avramenko clarified, however, that calcium chloride use is mainstream within the Alberta Bow River Basin.

"The Bow River is well renowned for its fisheries and so Calgary always leads the charges in that aspect. I haven't seen anything substantial in the last 10 years where they predominantly move to an alternative [to] chloride. You've seen companies have tried to push brined pickle juice and potato juice," he said. "But the downside is some communities dislike the smell of the waste."

Councillor Chapman made mention of portions of Deerfoot Trail having experimented with beet juice.

"Many of these municipalities that have tried the product or used an alternative; but I am going to say a high percentage of them are down to a small amount of beet juice with a large amount of the other product," Avramenko replied.

In his presentation, he also alluded to the January 27 snow event which garnered many residential complaints to both The City and on social media. He noted it wasn't just the unusually heavy snowfall that exacerbated road conditions, it was the swings in temperatures that also added to poor road conditions within the city. 

"Social media can be very critical or detrimental to everything we do and generally emotion takes over from a logical perspective and we should not overreact to immediate concerns after a big event," he said. "I'm not trying to downplay it by any means. However, even the best plans cannot always compete with Mother Nature and that's the reality."

However, Councillor Kolson challenged Avramenko on this, conceding that while social media may amplify negative reviews of city services, she herself said that the roads during this past winter were some of the worst she has seen in recent history. 

"This winter - it felt like we weren't doing a great job and that it was really icy and really dangerous. I was behind those trucks that were working and dropping the pickle mix," Councillor Kolson said. "I was just watching that roll off the ice and not doing a thing on some of those really slippery traffic circles or intersections."

Avramenko said that he continues to believe in the philosophy that less is more.

"With that being said, if we were to go to an anti-icing philosophy, we would probably be using more liquid to address those areas. Even though you pre-wet the pickle it's a very minute amount of liquid that goes down with the pickle. It just kind of coats the sanding material down so that when it hits the road it it kind of embeds into the road and it doesn't bounce off the road. We've rarely put pickle down without it being pretreated with liquid. We [will] probably have better results at some of those traffic circles if we would apply a straight chemical application."

Currently, Airdrie's Roads Department carries out the approved Snow and Ice Policy on a variety of roads, encompassing 703.4 lane kilometres.

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